HCM CITY (VNS)—"My child no longer needs surgery, he died after waiting for the surgery for a long time."
|Doctors perform heart surgery on an infant in HCM City. Children in the city are on a long waiting list for heart surgeries. Some hospitals have waiting lists 3,000 names long because of a shortage of surgeons, anaesthetists, and post-operative facilities, according to hospital cardiac wards. — VNA/ VNS Photo Phuong Vy
Cardiologists and nurses in HCM City often hear these reproachful words when they call up a patient's family asking to bring them to hospital for surgery.
A nurse at the Paediatric Hospital No.1 said many children born with congenital heart diseases were earmarked for surgery.
While waiting for their surgery, the children were allowed to stay at home to avoid possible hospital infections and lessen congestion, she said.
But by the time the hospital can schedule their surgery they passed away, she added.
Nguyen Thi Kim (not her real name) of Cu Chi District who took care of her three-year-old grandchild with a congenital heart defect said they had to wait one year for the surgery.
At a press conference held last week Dr Vu Minh Phuc, chairman of the HCM City Paediatric Cardiology and Congenital Heart Disease Society, said the ratio of babies born with heart conditions was eight per 1,000.
Nearly 8,000-10,000 babies are born with diseases like ventricular septal defect and atrial septal defect every year, according to Phuc.
If they do not get the surgery in time they are likely to die of heart and lung failure. But few hospitals can perform these surgeries.
Thus, each hospital that can has a waiting list of nearly 2,000-3,000 babies because of a shortage of surgeons, anaesthetists, and beds for recovery, according to hospitals' cardiac wards.
In the southern region, only the Cardiac Institute, Tam Duc Heart Hospital, and Paediatric Hospital No.1 and 2 are equipped for the surgery.
In the north, there are the Ha Noi Heart Hospital, Viet Duc Hospital, and the National Paediatric Hospital.
The Hue and Da Nang Cardiac Centres do them in the central region.
Together they can only perform 5,000 surgeries a year, according to Phuc.
Last year HCM City's Cardiac Institute performed the highest number of surgeries — 1,300.
The Paediatric Hospital No.2 performs just one surgery a day while 70-100 children are admitted, according to Phuc, who is also head of the cardiac unit.
Last year, it performed 350 open-heart operations. Phuc explained that it took four or six hours for a surgery for valvular heart disease, and doctors did not have the energy to perform a second one the same day.
The average waiting time for surgery is 18 months, but for some the wait lasts as long as three years.
Wealthy people who have children born with congenital heart diseases take them abroad to places like Singapore and Thailand for surgery which could cost VND 800 million (US$38,095).
Doctors said the surgery cost was no longer an issue since for patients aged below one it was covered by health insurance.
There were also many charity programmes to help poor children with congenital heart diseases.
The main reason was the shortage of surgeons and nurses.
To train a surgeon to perform open-heart surgeries took eight years.
After surgery a patient needed a bed and a cardiac nurse.
But hospitals were not allowed to hire more surgeons and nurses because the ministry allocated human resources quotas to each hospital based on the number of beds instead of the number of patients.
Hospitals also lacked facilities.
For instance, the Paediatric Hospital No.1's recovery room was small and did not have enough respirators.
But there was no place for hospitals to expand except vertically because most of them were situated in inner districts.
Phuc said it was essential to provide hospitals more land or build more centres specialising in heart surgeries.
Pregnant women should get ultrasound tests done on the foetal heart to detect defects early, he added. — VNS